It will be three weeks since Rangers have played a full match ahead of the epic showdown with Celtic, which has added a great deal of mystery over what to expect from Kenny McDowall’s struggling side. In case you have forgotten, Rangers have lost three of its past six matches & were outscored 9-2 in those defeats. So what pending issues must McDowall decide upon if they are to have any chance of pulling off an upset victory in the revival of the Old Firm.
1. Ian Black or Kyle Hutton?
Black has not played for Rangers in 2015 & has not seen the pitch since his embarrassing outing in the 4-0 loss to Hibs at the end of December. The former Hearts midfielder has struggled for much of the season & seemed to pick up needless bookings in the biggest matches. Rangers have played Hibs & Hearts five times this season – Black has been booked in four of those games. Given his experience – over 200 appearances in the SPL – you would think he would be relied upon to take on Celtic. However, the likelihood of him losing his cool in the frantic environment of an Old Firm match may be too much for McDowall to risk.
Kyle Hutton has actually looked quite competent as a replacement for Black. Defensively he has matched Black’s efforts, minus the unnecessary baggage that Black brings to a game. Additionally, Hutton has asserted himself as a vocal leader in the midfield & has not been afraid to call out even his more veteran peers in the squad. But, is he ready for such a big game? Is competency good enough?
2. Will we see the return of Cammy Bell to the lineup?
Bell returned to training last week & could make his return to the lineup on Sunday. He has not played since injuring his shoulder in August & has only made three appearances this season. While he is not the most domineering figure in penalty area, his shot-stopping ability is on a different level then his replacement – Steve Simonsen. Simonsen & the Rangers defence has been chaotic of late. After a solid start to the season, allowing only 12 goals in 18 matches – Simonsen has let in 12 goals in the past 8 games. He hasn’t gotten much help, but it is also very difficult to remove the image of his flub against Dundee United last season & feel comfort knowing he is in goal vs. Celtic.
3. Who starts up front?
Rangers most productive forward in Championship football this season will not be starting on Sunday. That’s a given. Calum Gallagher has scored 0.58 goals per 90 minutes this season during his loan period with Cowdenbeath. He’s also averaged 0.23 assists per 90 – meaning he was directly involved in a goal scored in nearly every match he played this season. For Rangers, only Nicky Clark &, to a lesser extent, Jon Daly has come close to that kind of production this season.
Even though, Kris Boyd goal scoring has been putrid (0.15 goals per 90) he actually leads the team in assists per 90 minutes. Most of that production came while lined up with Clark. Boyd’s experience in Old Firm matches & the fact that he is beyond overdue to score, makes him worth a shot in the lineup. If Rangers are going to get a goal on Sunday, it’s most likely going to come on the counter-attack & Boyd has been prone to breaking free on one-v-one battles with the goalie this season &…at some point he has to put one past the keeper.
Nicky Clark’s production & quickness begs for him to be included in the lineup. Kenny Miller’s vast experience & knack for huge goals makes him a deserved starter. It’s a radical idea, but what if Rangers lined up Miller as an attacking midfielder just behind the forwards. He played that role at times with the Vancouver Whitecaps & it would certainly catch the opposition by surprise. It’s not going to happen – but it would be an opportunity to diversify a predictable lineup.
4. Which Rangers players have the capacity to seize the moment & become the hero?
In recent times, players like Maurice Edu, Sone Aluko, & Lee Wallace have etched their place in Rangers folklore with clutch goals that propelled Rangers to victory. Who in this Rangers lineup can step up & score that epic, timely goal? Nicky Law? Darren McGregor? Jon Daly? David Templeton?
The current squad of players has done very little of late to win over the support of fans. That could change on Sunday but it’s going to take a level of bravery & commitment that has been vacant of late.
The sad part of the build-up to the Old Firm is the fact that a player like Lewis Macleod never got the chance to test his mettle on such a stage.
It is difficult to truly evaluate a player’s legacy at Ibrox without including his play in the derby matches…
5. How bad is it going to be?
With a lame-duck manager, a corrupt board & gutless performances from most of the playing squad of late – it is difficult to envision things going well in the first Old Firm match since 2012. The team is going to have to put 10 men behind the ball & survive the pure chaos that will ensue, especially in the opening moments of the game. We all know that an early goal will send the match spiraling into calamity & may be further reminder of how poorly the team has been ensembled since the last time the two sides met.